In 2018, the Hollywood movie named “the rampage” was released. Even though it was just science fiction, but it showed something that is very relevant to us currently. And that’s CRISPR gene-editing technology.
The movie was about how CRISPR can be used in ways that can be disastrous to humans and nature.
In the movie, CRISPR technology is used to transforms a gorilla into a flying dragon-monster with gigantic teeth.
- 1 What the Heck is CRISPR?
- 2 How to control CRISPR from being misused?
What the Heck is CRISPR?
CRISPR is a powerful gene-editing tool that has the potential to edit or alter the genome of almost any organism.
Initially, it was first seen as a bacterial defense system that plays a crucial role in their adaptive immunity. It evolved to cut and destroy the foreign DNA that entered a bacterium.
Later, scientists horned the CRISPR system and used it as a gene-editing tool.
CRISPR has shown promise in various fields and is considered to be used as a potential cure for multiple problems on a large scale.
For example, finding a solution for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, eradicating HIV, cancer, aging and other genetic disorders and more.
Moreover, overcoming global warming by modifying microbes, which will produce fuels and usually degrade non-degradable materials.
Explore more about CRISPR: What is CRISPR Cas9?
On the one hand when it has so many potential uses. Alternatively, if it falls into the wrong hands or if it is misused it can create chaos.
Therefore, in 2016, the US government designated CRISPR as a weapon of mass destruction and proliferation. Even though the development of biological weapons is banned since 1975 biological and toxin weapon convention.
But still, CRISPR can be misused in several ways due to some of the following reasons.
Ease of Access
It is not easy to get your hands-on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, because they are under strict scrutiny. So, a normal person cannot gain access to it.
While CRISPR, on the other hand, is very easily accessible. Even it is also available commercially as kits. That’s how the risk of potential misuse is more significant as compared to others.
Accidental release of CRISPR modified organisms
Another fear associated with CRISPR is that what if some living organism, either it may be bacteria or any larger animal, modified with CRISPR, escapes outside into the world. It will undoubtedly destroy the natural balance of the world.
DIY Biologist and Biohackers
Currently, there is a growing wave of biohacking and Do-it-yourself biology across the world.
Biohacking is a campaign and community involve people from different the background, who come together and work on DIY bio-projects. This encourages everyone to join and interact with one another.
A biohacker Josiah Zayner made headlines in 2017 when he injected himself with a CRISPR, aim to knock out the muscle inhibitor myostatin.
If there is no government or any official supervision, DIY biologist and biohackers may misuse CRISPR.
In 1984, the bioterror attack in the US was carried out by the followers of an Indian religious group – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. They deliberately contaminate the salad bar with salmonella bacteria, infecting 751 people.
Similarly, another attempted was perpetrated by a Japanese, religious group named ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ in 1993. They carried out an anthrax attack in Tokyo but mistakenly used a non-virulent strain.
Harmful effects of organisms modified via CRISPR
Even though CRISPR is used to produce modified organisms mainly to solve various problems. But what if instead of solving a problem, it further increases it?
The study has shown that CRISPR cause unintended mutations in the DNA, so-called off-target effects. This further complicates the problem.
How to control CRISPR from being misused?
- The government can prevent CRISPR from being misused by various ways like registration of DIY biologists, biohackers and Synthetic Biologists.
Also, anyone can easily gain access to CRISPR, for this proper registration and background checks can be utilized to prevent misuse of it. Also, licensing and certifying all laboratory-based and DIY users of CRISPR.
- Just like radioisotopes and illicit drugs precursors are being under strict observation and putting user-verification. Similarly, they can do the same for CRISPR and its related components.
Moreover, there should be tricking of gene-editing kits and other components including plasmids.
Scientists always feared the accidental release of genetically modified organisms. They always make sure to make their model animals or bacteria such that they will not be able to reproduce in nature. Moreover, test species may be unable to survive without certain conditions and nutrients, which will be only provided within the laboratory.
Video: The Ethics of CRISPR: Where do we draw the line?
These are just a few recommendations that can ensure that CRISPR will not be used for purposes other than its intended purpose.
Hopefully, in the near future, the governing bodies will act on these steps to ensure that no one makes a biological weapon.
Note: The article is updated on April 14, 2020.